Posted tagged ‘MoMA’

From Christian del Moral, a look at Premiere Brazil at MoMA

July 15, 2009


When it comes to Brazilian cinema, NYC audiences are adventurous and love taking chances–that’s according to Jytte Jensen (curator at The Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Film), who, along with Ilda Santiago (director of the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival) is organizing Premiere Brazil, which begins tomorrow at MoMA.

But there’s one theme in Brazilian culture that will make New Yorkers go to MoMA. “The films on music are perhaps the most popular overall,” she said. ‘This is perhaps the most beloved aspect of Brazilian culture –certainly the most well-traveled–and we have had numerous great films centered on music and musicians every year.”

And with that, Premiere Brazil will not only present a vast work from the giant of South America, including two documentaries about music, but live performances of Brazilian music in the museum’s Sculpture Garden. On opening night, Porto Alegre diva Adriana Calcanhotto, who also appears in one of the films in the line-up (Helena Solberg’s Palavra (En)cantada), will delight fans. “I can’t wait to hear her live myself!” said Jensen.

Also making its world premiere, and keeping up with the new generation of music lovers, Beyond Ipanema: Brazilian Waves in Global Music, which explores that world from Carmen Miranda to Bebel Gilberto to CSS.

Celebrating its seventh anniversary, Premiere Brazil is becoming one of the trademarks of MoMA, but what makes it so special? “The movies are making it special”, said Jensen. “There’s a surprising crop of new filmmaking talent premiering every year, and the energy of the overall filmmaking also by established filmmakers is consistently high.”

For example, this year documentary lovers will be treated to the first US retrospective of the maestro of non-fiction, Eduardo Coutinho.

Aside from that high point, is there any movie from Premiere Brazil that might get US distribution? We asked Ilda Santiago: “Definitely! Opening night’s Last Stop 174, which was acquired recently for the US. And also Beyond Ipanema, a documentary which “talks” directly with the American audience. But I would love to see a film like That’s It, a coming-of-age story, get released. Let’s see how the MoMA public reacts. And a film like Should Nothing Work Out, a true urban film with characters so full of life and drama. It would be great to see that happen.”

–Christian Del Moral, Cine Latino en Nueva York

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Beyond Bollywood: The New India at MOMA

July 1, 2009


Perceptions of India volley between the extremes of luxurious wealth portrayed in commercial Bollywood flicks and the news beat struggle the forty percent of the nation’s population living in poverty. The latter is a hairy picture for a Western public, to which the outrage over Slumdog Millionaire can attest. With every portrait of a country with enormous divides between class, caste, culture, language and religion, the question must be asked, “Is this the real India? Is this the India that Indians want the world to see?” To its credit, the Museum of Modern Art’s The New India series, sixteen films screened from June 5th through June 18th included thought-provoking documentaries about the reality of rural villages, including Megan Mylan’s film Smile Pinki, and Sourav Sarangi’s Bilal against large-scale Bollywood features like Luck by Chance by Zoya Akhtar, and subtler portrayals, like Buddhadev Dasgupta’s The Voyeurs that raise questions as much about the rise of India in the global eye and portrayals of poverty.

The line between an honest portrayal of rural life and “poverty porn” is fine and often blurry. Smile Pinki, directed by Megan Mylan stays beautifully clear of dangerous territory, recounting the story of poverty-stricken children with cleft lips and their magical transformation upon receiving free surgeries from a charity organization, The Smile Train. The film pivots around the vitality of the patients, a young girl in particular whose courage comes as a unnerving reminder of the astounding resilience of children. Sourav Sarangi’s Bilal is a far more complicated, ambivalent affair, following a young boy living in poverty with blind parents, unsure of itself as a documentary or a more stylistic narrative. Sarangi often films at Bilal’s eye-level, seeing the world from his perspective picks fights with peers and roosters outside of the 8×10 foot partitioned room he shares with his blind parents and little brother. Life is hard, as the parents are led around infamous Calcutta streets and struggle with debt, abortion, and violence portrayed matter-of-factly. Moments of hardship are obviously downplayed and others are not, muddying the line between slum exotica and a tale of real hardship and strength.

India cannot be seen without the role of fantasy and escapism provided by cinema’s ubiquitous cultural presence. Zoya Akhtar’s Luck by Chance transitions from the aesthetic world of glossy Bollywood parties to the humble lives of struggling artists, to the sets gaudy day-time soap operas. The deliberate moves between the glamorous celebrity-studded dream and the reality of an industry run on nepotism and corruption a simultaneous self-consciousness and great love for the industry the film criticizes and participates in. While revealing an industry that thrives on its incestuous breeding of star cache, Zoya Akhtar never loses sight of the impact of this world on the quotidian reality of Indian life across social stratum.

Buddhadev Dasgupta’s The Voyeurs, zooms in a little closer, painting a poetically stylized portrait of contemporary urban Calcutta, telling the sad tale of two young men and the effect of technology and popular culture on their lives in a modern environment run on traditional values. Much of the film is delightfully acted in the saccharine style of old Bengali comedies, the dialogue sing-song theatrical. Old Indian cinema plays a significant role in the film as the two protagonists’ small, circumscribed lives are rendered less lonely by their admiration for a picture of Madhubala, a beauty from 1940s Indian cinema over whom they rhapsodize, sharing woes – another manifestation of the emotional role of Indian film in the lives of Indians across the socio-economic board.

Shaik Nasir’s short brings role of film in the Indian consciousness most emphatically to the fore in Superman of Malegaon which follows the making of Malegaon-ka Superman, a regional parody of Superman whose production is a comedy of errors, the final product is a hilarious mash up, YouTube style. The importance of such a small production in the lives of the desperately underprivileged speaks to the changing nature of film in India and the growing interest in using the medium for poetic statements about Indian life – without compromising the tremendous need for escape that Bollywood provides. In a much needed attempt to offer a deeper look, the series offers a largely textured and broad, if not complete, view of a growing, changing Indian film industry, and in the best testament to the nature of the country, leaves one with a sense of paradox and questioning of perception of the diversity and portrayal of Indian life and cinema.

-Ashna Ali

Short film: “I see,” a MoMA commission by ND/NF alum

May 12, 2009

The Museum of Modern Art has just started an interesting program of commissioning short films about the museum experience by New Directors/New Films alums. I really dug this one directed by Azazel Jacobs (Momma’s Man, ND/NF ’08). In it, a beleaguered urban dude takes a departure from reality via one of those audio tours. I found it an engaging comment on what a museum can bring to your life, that it can be more than just a static and staid interaction between a viewer and an art object.

I’d love to see more of this kind of thing. Maybe it justifies someone with a camera going down the NewYorkology cultural institution list?

ND/NF: How do YOU live in public? Tell us and win tickets to Closing Night and party!

April 1, 2009


“It’s amazing how much of our lives we share online. YouTube, Twitter, MySpace updated from your iPhone to represent your iLife as you send regular status-updates/tweets/voice-or-video recordings of your current physical/emotional/technological situation–it almost makes blogging seem hopelessly archaic. But it’s this obsession with our rapid technological melding that informs We Live in Public, a documentary by Ondi Timoner,” writes Nick Feitel in his review of New Directors/New Films Closing Night selection.

It’s as true for people as it is for institutions. Both the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center “live in public” by having active presences on Facebook, Twitter (@museummodernart and @filmlinc), YouTube, and Flickr. Further, MoMA lives in public by creating a community-focused website that allows visitors to create their own collections. The Film Society lives in public  by inviting a talented group of New Voices to take over our blog.

But we want to know how you live in public on popular social networking sites. Do you use LinkedIn to find new jobs? Twitter to make new friends? Facebook to share the most intimate details of your life?

Tell us and win a pair of tickets to see the highly anticipated New Directors/New Films Closing Night film, We Live in Public, plus passes to the exclusive afterparty!

To play, use Twitter to Tweet your answer (“I live in public by…”) to @filmlinc. Please include the hashtag #ndnf. See example below:


Winner will be chosen at random at 5PM EST, Friday, April 3rd. Winner must be able to attend the Closing Night screening and afterparty on Sunday evening, April 5th at the Museum of Modern Art.

Comments are closed. Please participate using Twitter.

Moving Pictures: Exploring the art of the movie poster, then and now

March 20, 2009


While checking out a flick at MoMA recently, I came across the most extraordinary exhibit of movie posters painted for the grand Eastman Theater by Batiste Madalena during the late period of silent cinema, from 1924-1928. Imagine traveling back to a time before Photoshop and digital cameras, when movie posters were actually hand-made. The eye-popping colors and attention to detail within this exhibit are truly amazing to behold, but one thing it makes you realize is that great design is timeless.

To test that theory, I roped in the Film Society’s own graphic designer Karen Weeks to travel back to the Museum to check out the show and talk about the art of the movie poster.


Here’s Karen. She’s the Batiste Madelena of the Upper West Side. She designs all the lovely movie posters you see outside at Lincoln Center, like the one above for Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.


As soon as we got to the exhibit, Karen began to school me on the challenges of designing movie posters. Her job is to create a compelling visual representation of a film, and just like Madelena, she often works from limited press materials. Remember our Oscar Micheaux series? That time, there were barely any surviving images from the work of the black cinema pioneer, so Karen was forced to come up with some creative solutions.


Looking at the following vintage movie poster, Karen wondered if Madalena was confronted with a similar dearth of usable visuals and had to improvise.IMG_3079Another cool thing that Karen noticed was this layout of Greta Garbo. Look closely at the way Garbo’s scarf interacts with the title line. Very photoshoppy isn’t it?


And now check out Karen’s own scarf magic for The Film Society: israel_wrtc692

“One thing that’s key to designing a great movie poster is finding an arresting pair of eyes,” Karen told me, and a perfect illustration is this poster from The Sea Hawk.


And check out William Holden’s peepers. Squinty, but powerful:


Batiste Madalena: Handpainted Movie Posters for the Eastman Theater is a must-see exhibit for movie and design-lovers both. But hurry, it closes soon–April 6.

Naturally, it’s yet another reason we think you should go to New Directors/New Films this year. Take in great films, new directors…and the timeless art of movie poster design at MoMA all at once. We’ll see you at the theater!

Moving Pictures is the filmlinc blog’s extremely erratic series that looks at film as art in unusual manifestations outside of the walls of our institution. Check out past features on Bill Brand’s subway installation Masstransisscope, Brooklyn Academy of Music’s production of Continuous Cities, and artist Scott Draves’s online project, Electric Sheep in the archives.

An appreciation for a titan of the documentary form, George Stoney

February 26, 2009

It was serendipity, though at the time I took it as a an annoying scheduling snafu. I was a student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and wanted nothing more than to throw myself in total production immersion zone: directing, screenwriting, lighting, editing, and putting actual sprockets of film on real cameras. But my first semester in the program, I hit a snag: the only class that would complete my schedule was a lecture series called “The Documentary Tradition.” I was no great fan of documentaries, and my main exposure to them had been through public television. There was lots of reading and viewing of old scratchy black and white laser discs at Bobst Library outside of class. Worst of all, the class focused on documentaries made before 1970. Weren’t all the best docs made in the modern era? But I dutifully showed up the first day of class. I had no choice after all.

There I met George Stoney, one of the best teachers of film I’ve ever encountered and someone many contemporary documentary filmmakers consider the godfather of their craft. The first class broke out 1931’s Man of Aran, and Stoney’s own companion piece How the Myth was Made. From there, the tone was set for a provocative, illuminating, always challenging year. We watched Buñuel’s Land Without Bread to talk about documenting “the other.” The development of faster film stocks, hand-held cameras and sync sound was marked with examples from the early verite tradition, including Chronicle of a Summer and Happy Mother’s Day. And it was in Stoney’s class that I first encountered Anu Kuivalainen‘s Christmas in the Distance, a completely subjective exploration of the frailty of memory, and a film that perfectly anticipated the kind of brilliant experiementation more recently seen in Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir.

I stuck around for the second semester of Stoney’s class, which turned into an amazing laboratory that hosted some of the leading contemporary lights of the craft to talk about their films, including D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, Danny Schechter, and Susanne Rostock. As great as that semester was, my sense of discovery was the greatest in the deeply historical first semester, via those pre-1970’s films that I formerly eschewed.

In short, Stoney’s class transformed me into a completely different person and spectactor, someone with a sophisticated understanding of the ethics of documentary representation. Someone with an appreciation for the multitude of different forms documentary can take. Someone who’s watched “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” three times. That’s why I was thrilled to see the Museum of Modern Art hosting a tribute to the man this weekend. George Stoney will be on hand to talk about his films and the documentary tradition, and I’m sure dispense some of his decades worth of wisdom garnered at the craft’s front lines. And while it’s definitely not the year-long immersion in the documentary form that I found so inspriring, it just might be the next best thing. If you care at all for documentary, don’t miss this singular opportunity to be schooled by the master.

George Stoney Tribute at MoMA: Feburary 27-28, 2009

Positif cheatsheet: why French film criticism still matters

January 30, 2009


First things first, before exploring the Mavericks and Outsiders series currently on at the Film Society I needed to learn a little more about Positif. I was aware of its reputation as a crucial, longstanding French film magazine. I knew the publication to be kissing/fighting cousins with Cahiers du cinema. That I knew more about the latter is simply because Cahiers and Bazin are forced on university students in 101 courses as the lone artifact from that ancient time film viewers talked about “Film” rather than “Film Industry”: these days, I’m hungry for other examples.

I called the film programmer who introduced me to The Honeymoon Killers in 2000, Dylan Skolnick. He pointed out that Positif‘s willingness to engage films out of step with the mainstream politically and aesthetically — championing the surreal and the ineffable alongside genre films overlooked in other “serious” film magazines — meant the magazine can be trusted as a place of discovery for authentic voices in cinema. The editorial policy of similar-aged publications reveals shifts in the fashions of critical sentiment over the years, while a similar analysis of Positif — governed by an evolving editorial committee of past contributors rather than an editor-in-chief — reveals a surprisingly evergreen list of cinema worthy of engagement, argument, and preservation. (I’ve grabbed him watch some of the films in this series with me.)

I am reading Positif 50 Years: Selected Writings from the French Film Journal from the MoMA/Positif series a few years ago. Snips I found interesting below. First, from Michel Ciment, Positif‘s public face and responsible for selecting this series:

“Labels give people a feeling of security. Positif was upsetting to those who liked neat categories, and was distasteful to some because of its extreme freedom. Depending on whom one spoke to, it was either too theoretical or not theoretical enough. And then they were the intellectuals, the hair-splitters, who loved the labyrinths of Last Year at Marienbad and the speculations of Raúl Ruiz or the traps set by Peter Greenaway, but who just as readily defended the horror films produced by Hammer Films or Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, unanimously rejected when it was released by the “serious” press, as well as the golden age of Italian comedy neglected on both sides of the Alps! … It is always dangerous to be out of sync with fashion, to explore the contours of future cinema, at the risk of being called elitist or for basking too readily in the pleasures of old films and being labeled retro.” (Michael Ciment, “For Your Pleasure: A Brief Overview of Fifty Years of Positif“)

And finally, from the 1952 Positif issue 1 editorial by Bernard Chardère, who at twenty-two founded the magazine in Lyon with friends:

You like the movies: you also know that film is an art. It took fifty years for the professors to admit it; in another half-century students will be writing theses that attempt to reconstruct lost masterpieces. But whose fault was it that they disappeared? It is up to us to do something against the merchants of the mediocre.

— Discoveries rather than rehashes, even subtle ones. Shedding light on the unknown John Huston is far more useful than trotting out the usual clichés about The Devil’s Envoy (Les Visiteurs du soir) for the nth time.
— Interesting contributions, in particular from those who do not often get opportunity to express themselves: the makers of films that we admire. Doesn’t a single sentence from Jean Renoir have more resonance than a hundred books of exegesis?” (Bernard Chadère, “Why We Are Going to Fight”)

I’ll continue to be exploring selections from Positif parrallel to the series….